Notes from introductory McCord Museum call

James William Yoon james.yoon at
Tue Apr 28 19:50:44 UTC 2009

Perpetuating the trend set by Colin, here are notes (compiled from Jess',
Erin's, and James' notes) from the introductory conference call with the
McCord Museum this morning (Tuesday, April 28, 2009).

We spoke with Nicole (Director of Collections and Museum Management), and
Hugues (Webmaster, Database Administrator)

Organization Resources
- Budget is ~$5 million/year
- Staff of ~40 + education staff

Technology in General
- They have an interest in using RFIDs and mobile devices (PDAs and iPods
- At present, haven't used much technology in the physical exhibition space
    - But, they have a well-developed website full of cool, interactive
media (including tagging of artifacts, ability for visitors to leave traces
of themselves on the site, etc.)
    - One of their goals for Engage: form bridges between the material on
their website and the physical site (i.e., bringing materials and tools from
their website into the physical space)
    - The website is very important to them
    - One interesting technology they have in the physical space is a kiosk
with 9 artifacts digitized in 3D. Allows visitors to access objects without
touching it.
        - Made in partnership with (or funded by?) CHIN

Permanent Exhibit
- Permanent exhibit: Simply Montreal
- 8,000 square feet dedicated to it
- They'd love to add some technological features to it
- Currently using "old technology" video clips (from videodiscs, if I heard
- They don't want to redo the entire exhibit, just add/remove/change a few
objects from time to time (e.g., change the wedding dress on display every
year), and add some new features
- Fine tuning, not overhauling; evolves over time
- The permanent exhibit's been up for 10 years now, and they want to refresh
it to sure it's keeping current (esp. wrt technology)
- Two step refresh planned:
    - First step for next May or April, second for summer 2011
    - Depending on what's available, FE might affect their goals for the

- Are thinking of RFID for the following:
    - Project where people could use resources online to prepare the visit
and them come to the museum (esp. school visitors)
    - Tag artifacts and create a subset of visit to back home and see their
artifacts on their home computer
    - Extend, not recreate the physical exhibit
    - Allow users to create their own experience
- Created "My McCord" website feature about 2 years ago to give users a
place on the website to begin that (creating their own personal collection
of artifacts)
- After physical visit, they can bring home their collection of artifacts
and interact with them online
- Thinking about how making material available on iPods and iPhone to read
more info while they're tagging them... might connect the physical and
- Hugues: technically would like to use a common infrastructure for both
RFID tagging and PDA interaction; hoping to support both within the project
and develop web services so both would be using common data
- How far along is the McCord with RFID technology?
    - Reviewing the literature and looking at post projects -- other museums
have documented extensively their experiences there
    - Looked at other technologies too -- PDAs and cell phones; reviewing
RFID and PDA and cell phone projects

- What sorts of exhibitions is the McCord working on now?
    - Continual work on permanent exhibit
        - In the next 18-24 months, want to integrate those specialties to
make sure we can go on with supporting more dynamically beyond the web and
right now only can work with website.
- How long does it take to develop an exhibit? ~4 years, or less if not
starting from scratch
- Total exhibition space available: ~18,000 sq. ft. over three floors
    - 1st floor: temporary exhibit (in next 5 years, will turn this space
into semi-permanent 3-5 year exhibits)
    - 2nd floor: main exhibit
    - 3rd floor: smaller gallery for prints and small artifacts
- Out on McGill street, outside photo exhibit
- 2 spaces of 4,000 sq. ft., permanent exhibit of 8,000 sq. ft.

Content Databases
- Where does content come from?
    - Uses TMS collections management system, mostly for conservation
    - Separate database needed for artifacts and content on website
(different context, different information than for conservation)
    - Also, TMS doesn't support multilingual content (one of McCord's
constraints is that all content has to be bilingually available)
    - Website for public distribution
    - Web database has the content from TMS, and adds to it (French

The Website
- Have had their website for 10 years now
- The most important thing is the database; build things based on that
- They don't have a "brochure" kind of website
- They look for ways for visitors to contribute to the website, to create
their own world
- 2 years ago, they created "My McCord"
    - Gives ability for visitors to create their own collection
    - Create their own web tour
    - Upload their own images
    - Comment
    - Tag
    - Etc.
- In a sense, content on the website is really the visitors
- In the future, want to create communities of interest (a la Flickr,
- Constantly looking to keep relevant on what they can offer to the
- Created 4 or 5 virtual exhibits
- 30 online games
- Web work toward curriculums across canada, well-used in quebec but not in
other provinces
- Started using Flickr and YouTube; trying to create more connections
between those and other communities
- Started getting involved with "web 2.0" 2 years ago, and implemented basic
functionality right away
- Figuring out ways to extend on it and integrate how they're collecting on
- Game "tag" for labeling images
    - Met Luis von Ann at CHI, worked on tagging/labeling game
    - Interesting because depending on the interface, people were more
willing to contribute
    - When individuals had to register and log in and tag artifacts
individually, they got 500 tags in a year (formal tagging)
    - When they offered the tagging game, and didn't need to register, they
got 235K tags over 6-12 months (informal tagging)
- No way for visitors inside the museum to access the website
- Thinking about having a kiosk with website access
- Don't want people to revisit the exhibit on the website
    - Want them to work with what they've learned in the exhibit, extend the
experience and use it for their own purposes
    - Found that teachers weren't using the specific stuff, but were using
the templates for their own purposes
    - Visitors prefer using the tools on the website (have their own
control, make their own path/trail, create their own experience around the
artifacts/content), as opposed using the content/experience that was
specifically offered
    - Don't want to necessarily replicate what's in the physical exhibit
onto the website

- There is creativity here--curious and open
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